Tips & Tricks
Featured Article: Getting started in Open Source and Education (Part III of IV)

Part 3 - Execution:

Two months ago, you were given the task of getting your plan in order. You should have been able to establish a timeline, milestones, deliverables, identify low and high hanging fruit and document the plan in some form. You should have a 50,000-foot view of who does what and when, in a format accessible to your team. This month, we move on to the real fun: Execution.

Again, the finer details of this phase will depend greatly on what it is you set out to accomplish and in what time, so we will stick to the broad strokes of executing your plan. Some of these are a refrain from the planning phase:

  1. Stick to the timeline
  2. Avoid scope creep
  3. Meet regularly for updates
  4. Celebrate milestones/achievements
  5. Document progress and pitfalls

  1. Stick to the time line: Part of your ability to do so will depend on how well you estimated your time and man-hour resources. Begin with a project kickoff meeting where you establish and clearly articulate your desired outcomes, owners, time frame and measures for success. Be mindful of dependencies. You want to be sure that if you plan on having 10 machines booting Linux in the lab by the 20th, that someone has procured/reallocated those machines before then. The main two reasons for this are to maintain momentum, and to keep perception of your success high. Slipping deadlines, or under delivering, no matter what the circumstances, will reflect poorly on the project. Get going. Keep going. Move on to the next milestone as aggressively as you can.
  2. Avoid scope creep: This is akin to the timeline. It will be very tempting to try and add something to the plan, or stretch a deliverable a bit in the execution, especially when energy is high. This, 9 times out of 10, will come back to haunt you in the form of a missing dependency, overspent budget, or timeline slippage. Keep track of the things you think you can add on for "gravy." If you have time, money, and energy, add them at the end. Remember, you have to know when you can call this thing "done" before you can apply any measure of success.
  3. Meet regularly: Even just touching base via email will help you identify roadblocks in advance. To use the previous example, you don't want to arrive at the lab to install your 10 machines to find out they aren't there. This is also an opportunity for the team leader to keep morale in check, to reallocate resources in light of changing circumstances, etc. Take these opportunities to share progress with the team against your master plan. It can do wonders to keep folks motivated and feeling rewarded for their hard work.
  4. Celebrate milestones and achievements: Blow your own horn a bit if this project is above radar. If this is a small proof of concept or clandestine effort, celebrate amongst the team. Nobody ever got fired for being too positive.
  5. Document progress and pitfalls: This is not only a good tool for your performance measures, but also invaluable when you look back to see what you need to add or improve when you re-assess in our next phase. It will also get you in the habit of having an "actual" to compare your "projected."

Some pitfalls to avoid:

  1. Dependency lock (you can't get A done without B, on which depends C, which needs A)
  2. Atrophy
  3. Unrealistic expectations
  4. Lack of communication
  5. "The Show stopper"

The last one is the doozy. You will invariably come to a point where you cannot proceed. If your plan is well constructed, it should build to completion. So at any point along the way you will still have deliverables to show for it. This brings into light the unwritten rule of all project planning. Plan B. Have one.

Planning, as you might expect, is usually the longest phase, but if you've done the right amount of legwork in the assessment and planning phases, it should be a breeze logistically.

Your homework this month (and for as many as it takes) is to execute your plan. Get the proof of concept lab running within your district, get your school running OpenOffice, Evolution and Mozilla, whether it be on Linux or Windows as a toe-in-the-water approach. And above all, have fun. You are, after all, saving the world.

Next month we finish off our series with: Getting started with Open source in education - Part 4: Looking Back

Read Part 1: Assessment
Read Part 2: Planning